2008 SmallBiz Success Awards
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Blind Vendors Ohana Inc.
Filo Tu, president,
You don’t have to see to succeed. That’s the inspirational lesson of Blind Vendors Ohana Inc. (BVO) and the company’s president, Filo Tu. He has been blind since he was a child. But he’s proved that’s no barrier to running a thriving business, managing 87 employees and bringing his company into the technological age.
Blind Vendors Ohana was born in 1994, after a 10-year legal struggle by the Hawaii Association of Blind Vendors to win the newsstand concessions contract at Honolulu International Airport.
BVO started by borrowing $2 million to remodel the existing airport shops. More recently, it invested in technology that reads products and prices out loud for blind cashiers, scans money and tracks merchandise. Since taking over the airport business 13 years ago, BVO has expanded from six to nine stores, added products and more than doubled annual sales.
Sixty percent of BVO employees are visually impaired or disabled. Tu says BVO donates 60 percent of its profits to funds that benefit the blind. Despite financial success, Tu believes BVO’s bottom line is motivating blind people to lead productive and fulfilling lives. “We give them a better attitude by saying ‘Hey, blind is not as bad as you think. You can do it!’”
CHART Rehabilitation of Hawaii
Blaine Yoshioka, physical therapist, CHART Rehabilitation of Hawaii and patient Peter Birschbach
“Even our patients tell us how much they feel part of a special ohana,” Takaki says. “Our high retention of longtime employees in a field with significant burnout rates and our long history of repeat physician referrals tell us we are doing something where everyone wins, especially our patients.”
CHART today is one of only two physical therapy clinics in the U.S. that is 100 percent employee-owned under an Employee Stock Ownership Plan (ESOP). Annual sales for the company are about $3 million.
“ESOP helps affirm our employees’ sense of ownership and rewards their highly motivated dedication to our success,” says Takaki, who serves as president of the Hawaii ESOP chapter and chair of the National ESOP Association. In the future, CHART plans to expand its facilities, increase staff and accommodate numerous Neighbor Island requests for services.